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The Retail Revolution: Embracing Social Commerce and AI-Driven Technologies for the Ultimate Shopping Experience
May 30, 2023 News AI E-Commerce Retail


Written by: Izzat Najmi, Journalist, AOPG.

Social commerce, or the process of selling products and services directly through social media, is on the rise. If we take a closer look at Southeast Asia, the social commerce market has already skyrocketed to a whopping USD $42 billion, with signs proving that it will only get better and better in the next few years.

Due to the dynamic and diverse Southeast Asian market, there’s a staggering number of 64.2 million social shoppers in the region alone, representing a vast untapped potential for businesses. But that is not all – globally, social shoppers already constitute a whopping 55% of the online population, indicating the massive influence of social commerce on the future of retail.

For businesses, this presents a golden opportunity to capitalise on the explosive growth of ASEAN and establish an unwavering connection with their customers. By embracing social commerce, companies can offer personalised shopping experiences that not only drive revenue but also foster brand loyalty and customer advocacy.

Asnawi Jufrie, Regional General Manager, Southeast Asia of SleekFlow, said that there are three major trends businesses should capitalise on if they want to join the e-commerce bandwagon.

Trend 1: Digital Presence and Social Proof

In today’s hyper-connected world, having a strong digital presence and social proof is critical for businesses looking to succeed in the social commerce space. As Asnawi points out, 3 out of every 4 consumers globally rely on social media, search engines, and customer reviews to discover and research brands before making a purchase. Therefore, maintaining a robust online presence and leveraging social proof is key to winning over potential customers.

Trend 2: Live Streaming

Live streaming has emerged as a powerful trend in social commerce, with nearly three-quarters of live-stream viewers having already made purchases via social media. This trend is set to continue with almost half of the remaining live-stream viewers planning to use in-platform shopping features for future purchases in 2022. It is predicted that the live-streaming market will grow by USD $29 billion between 2023 and 2027, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13.47%.

Trend 3: Conversational Commerce

One of the biggest challenges that brands face with social purchasing is establishing trust between consumers, social networks and vendors. Asnawi mentions that SleekFlow encourages customers to implement verified Green Tick WhatsApp accounts and payment gateways like Stripe, as a reliable way to provide a more secure and seamless payment experience for their customers.

By empowering two-way interactions between buyers and companies, conversational commerce enables ongoing conversations throughout the sales funnel journey. According to Juniper Research, spending on conversational commerce globally is expected to reach USD $290 billion by 2025, representing almost a sevenfold increase from 2021. This growth highlights the enormous potential of conversational commerce to transform the way businesses interact with their customers and drive sales and revenue growth.

Having a Solid Media Presence

Although Asnawi pointed out earlier that having a social media presence is important, it is not enough to drive business growth. Beyond having a social media presence, communicating with consumers directly and finding new ways to engage with them via these platforms play a strategic role in driving online sales, helping businesses to connect with customers, increase awareness, and stay top of mind.

In fact, he shares that 60% of Southeast Asian consumers are discovery-led when shopping online, with social media accounting for almost half of the discovery process, and 86% of online shoppers surveyed in APAC say they are always open to discovering new products that match their interests or needs. This shows the potential of discovery commerce, where consumers are in an “always-shopping mode” and purchase decisions are made spontaneously and impulsively. With sufficient data and customer-driven insights, retailers can anticipate online shoppers’ needs, proactively recommending a product and compelling them to make a purchase.

Asnawi highlights the Facebook Discovery System as an example of how products can be found by customers, instead of waiting for shoppers to search for a product. He said, “Unlike the passive approach in the past, Facebook Discovery System empowers products to be found by customers instead of waiting for shoppers to search for a product, which translates into interest into demand and increase sales.”

Social Media: An Essential Part of Retail Moving Forward

In addition to having an appealing social media profile, having a presence on messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger, Instagram Direct Messenger, and WhatsApp is also essential. Customers and brands can chat directly, which fosters deeper bonds. This direct line of communication accelerates conversions by addressing customer concerns and questions. Furthermore, consumers are often more inclined to spend more and return after a positive customer service experience.

While user concerns regarding privacy in messaging apps have spiked in recent years, particularly on WhatsApp, a report by Boston Consulting Group revealed that 80% of APAC consumers plan to continue using business messaging to interact with businesses. The WhatsApp Business Green Tick verification can thus effectively help eliminate this issue as consumers now know whom they are speaking with, boosting trust and credibility immensely.

“I believe that digital discovery is the starting point of many interconnected shopping experiences,” he said. To him, it is no longer just about capturing the consumer’s wants but also about understanding and creating them.

The Future of Retail

The future of retail and e-commerce is set to become increasingly integrated, with social commerce playing a pivotal role. While e-commerce will not be replaced by social commerce, this emerging segment presents new opportunities for brands to build stronger relationships with consumers.

Asnawi believes that the future of retail and e-commerce is headed towards a customer-centric shopping experience. “The key to this is a seamless integration of online and offline channels through the use of social messaging apps, QR codes, and other technologies to create faster discovery journeys for customers,” he said.

One effective approach to achieving this is conversational commerce, which allows sales representatives to continue interacting with shoppers through social messaging apps even after they leave the store. By using data integration across all channels, businesses can track and analyse customers’ behaviour, personalise their shopping journeys, and develop effective marketing strategies that drive sales.

Asnawi also stresses that it is important for businesses to leverage technology to create frictionless experiences for customers and make their shopping experience more convenient. Ultimately, adopting the right technology that fits the business needs can help drive growth and operational efficiencies while future-proofing their commerce strategy.

The Emergence of AI in Retail

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is revolutionising many industries, and its transformative power is poised to leave an indelible mark on retail and e-commerce as well. With its ability to analyse vast amounts of data, AI enables retailers to gain invaluable insights into consumer preferences, trends, and behaviours.

Asnawi believes that AI-driven technologies, especially chatbots, will become even more prevalent in the coming years. With advancements in AI and machine-learning technology, chatbots are only going to become more sophisticated and integral to every industry.

According to a report by Straits Research, the global chatbot market is expected to reach USD $3,619 million by 2030, growing at a CAGR of 23.9% during the forecast period (2022–2030). This rise in chatbot usage can be attributed to the fact that customers expect 24/7 customer service and demand more access, choices, and control over their relationships with companies.

Expectations Are Growing

As AI-driven digital assistants like ChatGPT continue to grow, Asnawi believes that there is a rise in consumer expectations of chatbots being able to hold conversations that closely mimic human interactions. In addition, interactions with chatbots will no longer be limited to simple dialogues but will also be expected to be more intuitive and help facilitate business processes on a self-serve basis. This means having a seamless customer journey, from answering queries to lead generation and even event conversion.

He added that there is already growing demand for chatbots to be integrated with social media platforms. “Chatbots will support automated customer support and even purchase journeys across multiple social media platforms,” said Asnawi. Greater interoperability will also be required to allow different technologies to work together smoothly and efficiently, to communicate and share data and information.

With the future of retail set to become increasingly integrated, social commerce presents businesses with the ability to give put the power of buying at the tip of the fingers of their consumers.